Psychologist Dr Albert Ellis (the founder of rational emotive behaviour therapy – the precursor to CBT) created the ABC model in order to help people understand their reactions and responses to stress. The ABC model is a basic CBT technique which assumes that your beliefs about stress directly affect or influence how you subsequently respond to stress. Therapists, life coaches and other mental health professionals have expanded upon Dr Ellis’ original model so as to include two additional steps. This article will show you how you can use the ABCDE model to help you to challenge your irrational thoughts, maladaptive beliefs and cognitive distortions thus allowing you to not only manage daily stress but also help you to create and develop healthier stress responses and improve your overall resiliency and psychological hardiness.
The ABCDE model;
A = Activating event (trigger/stressor).
B = Beliefs and thoughts about the trigger/stressor (maladaptive beliefs & thoughts).
C = Consequences of faulty beliefs and thoughts (resulting feelings and behaviours).
D = Disputing faulty and maladaptive beliefs, schemas and thoughts.
E = Effect of having disputed and replaced faulty beliefs and thoughts (resulting feelings and behaviours).
ABCDE model explained;
A: Activating event (trigger/stressor);
These are the ordinary, everyday life events which have the potential to trigger stress and includes everything from losing a job, finding a job, paying bills, getting married, getting divorced, having a fight with family, friends or loved ones, hassles at work and so on and so on. Stressors are always arbitrary in the sense that it is we humans who attach meaning and significance to these arbitrary events thus transforming them into actual stress. This is where beliefs come in.
B: Beliefs and thoughts about the trigger/stressor;
When we are born, we are a blank slate until we are quickly indoctrinated with the views, beliefs, thoughts, etc of our parents, families, peers, communities, religions, cultures, etc. These influences can determine whether we develop healthy and adaptive belief systems and schemas or unhealthy and maladaptive belief systems and schemas (about ourselves and others). Unhealthy and maladaptive belief systems and schemas can lead us to constantly interpret every day, ordinary stressors as ‘threatening’, ‘harmful’, ‘noxious’ and ‘negative’.
C: Consequences of belief systems, thoughts and schemas;
If you respond to ordinary, everyday events (stressors) with healthy and adaptive beliefs systems, thoughts and schemas, you are less likely to transform stressors into actual stress and so your journey ends here. For those who respond to ordinary, everyday events (stressors) with unhealthy and maladaptive belief systems, thoughts and schemas, you are more likely transform stressors into stress and so experience negative feelings, thoughts and behaviours. If you want any chance of reducing and mitigating the negative effects of stress, you must move onto the next step.
D: Disputing faulty and maladaptive beliefs, schemas and thoughts;
The first part of this step, and probably the hardest, is becoming consciously aware of your beliefs, schemas and thoughts whilst also becoming acutely aware of how they influence your feelings and behaviours. Mindfulness, journaling and meditation are just 3 ways you can become more aware of your internal world and its contents. Cognitive reframing, positive thought replacement, radical acceptance and positive affirmations are 4 ways you can dispute and challenge faulty and maladaptive beliefs, schemas and thoughts. The consequences of using these 4 techniques leads us to the final step of the ABCDE model.
E: Effect of having disputed and replaced faulty beliefs and thoughts (resulting feelings and behaviours);
When you are able to recognise, dispute, challenge, reframe and replace your negative beliefs, schemas and thoughts, you can lower, reduce and eliminate your stress responses. The sooner you can lower, reduce or eliminate your stress responses, the less negative and toxic effect the stress will have on your mind, body, emotions and relationships.
A = An intimate relationship or friendship suddenly ends.
B = “I am such a loser”, “I am unlovable”. “Nobody wants me”. “I’m all alone”. “There is something wrong with me”. “I can never make people happy”.
C = Feelings of sadness, despair, unworthiness, self-hatred. Resorts to using drugs and other substances to numb the pain and self-medicate. Becomes suicidal and engages in self-harm. Withdraws form social, familial and occupational relationships.
D = “Who say’s that I am a loser”? “We were always fighting so this is best for both of us” (radical acceptance). “Am I really alone when so many people are offering me love and support during this hard time” (cognitive reframing)? “I love myself and I am worthy of love (positive affirmation/positive thought replacement)”.
E = Feelings of competence and self-worth return. Feelings of sadness, despair and self-hatred dissipates. Reengages in social, familial and occupational relationships. Begins dating again or actively seeks relationships.
A = You lose your job or you are made redundant.
B = “This is so unfair”. “I must be a loser because I can’t provide for my family”. “Just wait until I see my boss on the streets”. “My parents were right… I am useless”.
C = Feels sad, despondent, unhappy, mistreated, ashamed, embarrassed. Loses self-confidence and self-efficacy. Stops looking for work. Takes anger and frustration out on family and friends.
D = “I was being a bit lazy at work. I can understand why my boss needed to replace me. He has a family to feed as well” (cognitive reframing). “I guess it’s just a consequence of the economy right now. I better start looking for another job” (radical acceptance). “ I am confident I can find more work. I am a good worker with a solid work history” (positive affirmations/positive thought replacement).
E = Feelings of competence, self-worth and self-efficacy returns. Feelings of shame, sadness and embarrassment dissipates. Develops an optimistic and hopeful view of the future. Continually seeks employment despite rejections or setbacks.
A = Your boss asks you to come to their office the following day at 9am.
B= “I must be in trouble”. “What did I do wrong”? “I am a loser so I just know they are going to fire me”. “This is going to be bad. Maybe I should quit my job now and go home”. “I should call in sick for tomorrow”.
C = Becomes stressed and anxious. Becomes flustered and nervous. Feels sick to the stomach. Goes red in the face and suddenly feels hot and sweaty. Has difficulty sleeping due to worry and rumination.
D = “They only asked me to come and talk to them. There is no evidence yet that I have done something wrong”. “I am a good worker. I have nothing to worry about”. “I am sure the conversation will be productive. There is no need for me to worry about it right now. I need some sleep”.
E = Stress and anxiety reduces. The desire to quit their job or call-in sick declines. Feels more confident and assured when talking with their boss the following day. Doesn’t make rash decisions or become defensive when approached in the meeting.